By George Harvey
Frank Grossman clearly enjoys doing beneficial new things. When he and his family moved to Hollis, New Hampshire (near Nashua), one of its existing features of their home was a solar hot water system. With the passing time, he decided to upgrade and expand that system. His new system, now five years old, provides not only hot water but heat to the house, reducing fuel consumption to about a third of what it had been.
Still looking for ways to make things better, he started considering options for building a solar array on his land. A net-metered array can reduce a family’s electricity load to nearly nothing, but a larger array can sell power commercially. Grossman wanted a payback on the system in a reasonable time, but he did not feel a need for huge profits. He considered his options, and came up with a novel solution.
He decided to build a large enough array to do group net-metering for his family and friends. With a little calculation, he found that he could pay the system off in ten to twelve years, even if he gave a fairly large amount of its power away for free. And that is what he did. Grossman said, “It is payback to society, rather than directly to us.”
He approached friends and relatives, telling them they did not need to invest money or take on any obligations to get ongoing benefits from his solar array. All they needed to do was to sign up for group net-metering. Grossman would get solar power with a reasonable investment payback. The group would get 45% of the output of the 163.8 kilowatt system, just for signing.
Even when things are easy, they are not always so easy. Hollis had no zoning for solar arrays. This did not mean he could just go ahead. It meant that a new ordinance had to be crafted.
He filed his first documents with the town in November, 2015. Planning board members wanted more than just a description of what was to be done. Some wanted documentation on the array, with drawings and an engineer’s official stamp. Grossman’s original plan had not anticipated that board members would need to be educated.
The town’s decision-making process produced inconsistent results. Some work was started, with an understanding that it was appropriate, only to have a town official decide that it needed to be altered. An underground electric line that was being installed had to be relocated.
In some cases, Grossman did better than the town asked for. One neighbor objected that the solar array would be unsightly and reduce the value of a house that had been bought as a retirement investment. When the town wanted a fence so the array could not be seen from a road, Grossman decided to plant a staggered line of over fifty white pine trees.
In May, a new zoning ordinance was brought up for a vote by the citizens, and it passed. The array could go forward. The array was the last to do so under a state law limiting the overall amount of group net-metered solar to two percent of the peak demand.
It is the nature of solar power that it can be installed quickly, once things are all approved. Solar Source of Keene, New Hampshire completed the Tolemac Solar array in short order, and it is one of the prettiest we have seen. It went online on January 20, 2017.
Pictures of the array’s progress can be seen at http://www.tolemacsolar.com/.